Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America
except for the welcome parade
put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy
who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s
and was never heard of again
and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s
whose cases your mother studied
in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become
an “American” and you worry
she’ll blame this country
for making you a “marica,”
a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.
The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!
Exchange a few vowels
and turn anyone born in this country
queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid
and dream of sashaying away
the names bullies called me in high school
for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:
black-ish, negro claro, cueco.
It was a predominately white school,
the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent
when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.
There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then
so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”
and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,
holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,
and booty dancing in the spirit.
I don’t want to disappear in New York City,
lost in a drag of straightness.
So instead, I proceed
to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend
after I’ve moved her to Texas
and helped make her a citizen.
Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march
toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.
Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the
Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re
the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.
Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,
until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica
and your ancestors see
you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,
purple scepter, crown, and krewe.
Copyright © 2020 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.
In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,
you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him
about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.
They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend
the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?
I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair
of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.
My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,
isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend
Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.
Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns
to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like
this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother
more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is
already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.
While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation
clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid
in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,
& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me
what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily
talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets
slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.
Remind me, he says
to our family.
Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.